Rare Books Blog

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. The Grand Instructions to the Commissioners Appointed to Frame a New Code of Laws for the Russian Empire. London: T. Jeffreys, 1768. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

The enduring contribution of Catherine II (1729-1796) to Russian law commenced in 1767, when Catherine herself composed a new law code, the Nakaz, mostly in the French language with extensive borrowings from leading Enlightenment thinkers, notably Beccaria, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. Although the Nakaz was never enacted, its translations into the major European tongues and issuance in more than twenty editions made the Nakaz the single piece of Russian legislative material best known abroad. It secured for Catherine the encomium “the Great”.

Two contemporary English translations are known of the Nakaz. Shown here is the version published at London in 1768 by Mikhail Tatishchev, of whom little is known except that he was attached to the Russian Embassy in London. The second is a manuscript held by the Library of Congress, acquired in 1942 from the Collection of Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), one of the foremost bibliophiles of all time. The manuscript was originally owned and perhaps commissioned (or even translated) by Sir George Earl Macartney, Ambassador to the Court of St. Petersburg. Macartney returned to England two months before Catherine actually convened her Great Commission, but the text of her draft was circulating in Europe by early Spring 1767. Jeremy Bentham owned a copy of this edition.

See: Both the Tatishchev and Macartney/Phillipps versions are reprinted in W E. Butler & V. A. Tomsinov (eds.), The Nakaz of Catherine the Great: Collected Texts (2010).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Nakaz jeio impieratorskogo velichestva Ekateriny Vtoroi samodevzhitsy vserossijskaia olannyi Kommissii o Sochinenii proekta novogo ulozheniia | Instructio Sacrae Imperatoriae Maiestatis Aecaterinae Secundae Autocratorissae Omnium Rossiarum Coetvi Auspiciis Illius Convocato ad Conficiendam ideam Novi Legum Codicis | Ihrer Kayserlichen Majestät Instruction für die zu Verfestigung des Entwurfs zu einem neuen Gesetz-Buche verordnete Commission  | Instruction de sa Majesté Impériale Catherine II. pour la Commission Chargée de dresser le project d’un Nouveau Code de Loix. St. Petersburg, 1770. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

The Nakaz has been described as “one of the most remarkable political treatises ever compiled and published by a reigning sovereign in modern times” (I. de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), p. 151).

The most magnificent and desirable of the more than 40 editions of the Nakaz, this four-language version is spread across two quarto pages, two columns to a page. There are four separate title pages, respectively in Russian, Latin, German, and French. The opening and closing pages include allegorical engravings designed by Jacob Shtelin (1709-1785) and engraved by a Swabian artist then resident in Moscow, Christopher Melhior Roth (d. 1798). The Latin translation was by Catherineís state secretary and current favorite, Grigorii Kozitskii (1724-1775). The translators of the French and German texts have never been identified.

Catherine II presented copies of the four-language version to contemporaries throughout Europe. The copy shown here was given to the Earl of Chesterfield, accompanied by a letter of presentation in her own hand.

The four-language version evidently enjoyed a large print run. In 1808 the Academy of Sciences remaindered 1,421 copies by weight of the paper; whether they were pulped is unknown. By 1861 this edition of the Nakaz was bringing a substantial auction price.

See: A bibliography of 43 editions of the Nakaz appears in W.E. Butler & V.A. Tomsinov (eds.), The Nakaz of Catherine the Great: Collected Texts (2010).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 12, 2012

 

Medal awarded to deputies of Catherine II’s Legislative Commission. Private Collection

The Legislative Commission summoned to Moscow has been seen as a “major, highly personal political experiment” formed by election and intended to represent the “estates” of the Russian Empire (I. de Madariaga, Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great (1981), p. 139). Representation was accorded to state institutions, landowners, and social groups not otherwise included in the first two categories. Deputies were paid a salary, enjoyed certain privileges and immunities, and were awarded a badge of office that nobles were entitled to incorporate in their coats of arms.

Each member of Catherine the Great’s Legislative Assembly was awarded a medal in commemoration of their participation, such as the one exhibited here.

Aware that much of her population was illiterate, including some deputies elected to the Legislative Commission, Catherine II composed her Nakaz in a style suitable for reading aloud, imparting to the text an “urgent rhythm” in imitation of Montesquieu’s series of short staccato chapters in his Spirit of the Laws. The entire text was read aloud to the assembled deputies, who were said to have received the text with rapture. Many were moved to tears.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Instruction donnée par Catherine II., impératrice et législatrice de toutes les Russies: a la commission établie par cette souveraine, pour travailler à la rédaction d’un nouveau code de loix, telle qu’elle e été imprimée en Russe & en Allemand, dans l’Imprimerie Impériale de Moscow. Lausanne: François Grasset & Comp., 1769. Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library

This is the last of three French editions of the Nakaz, testimony to the wide interest in Catherine’s law reform project in Western Europe. The translator was the Swiss historian Joseph Anton Felix von Balthasar. The year this edition appeared, the French crown placed the “libertine” Nakaz on its list of prohibited books.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

[Catherine II (1729-1796), Empress of Russia]. Armorial bookplate, engraved. Text: Catherine Alexievna II, | Imperatrice de toutes les Russies. Second half 18th century, after 1762. Irene D. Andrews Pace Memorial Collection, Haas Family Arts Library Special Collections, Yale University

Catherine II was a voracious reader and formed a substantial personal library. Two bookplates are attributed to her collections, neither of which has been actually found in a book. The present plate is the only copy known and came to Yale from Irene D. Pace, a well-known American bookplate collector.

See: News from the Yale Library 10 (1996), 2.

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

March 12, 2012

Blackstone, Sir William (1723-1780). Istolkovaniia angliiskikh zahonov [Commentary on English Laws of Mr. Blackstone]. Moscow, 1780-82. 3 vols. Special Collections, Harvard Law School Library

Catherine II became aware of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-69) through the French translation. It became her bedside book, replacing Montesquieu, and greatly influenced her ideas on law and administration. Only volume I of Blackstone was translated into Russian, at her behest by S.E. Desnitskii (c. 1740-1789), the Glasgow-educated first Russian professor of law, and A.M. Briantsev (1749-1821). While Catherine had a special need for the book, it was part of her larger commitment to translations expressed in the establishment of a Society for the Translation of Foreign Books, which survived until 1783 and which she subsidized handsomely.

Among the 700 pages of notes which Catherine II took while reading Blackstone were drafts for a High Court of Justice. On her trip to the Crimea in 1787 Catherine II took her notes on Blackstone and her Nakaz with her to compare the two texts and work on further plans for constitutional reform. Her scheme for a High Court of Justice drawn from Blackstone seemed to combine legislative features of Parliament in England with judicial elements. Her contemplated High Court would have chambers consisting of appointed councilors and assessors elected by the local nobility, urban dwellers, and State peasants.

Blackstone wrote approvingly of Catherinian reforms in penal law:

“Was the vast territory of all the Russias worse regulated under the late Empress Elizabeth, than under her more sanguinary predecessors? Is it now under Catherine II less civilized, less social, less secure? And yet we are assured, that neither of these illustrious princesses have, throughout their whole administration, inflicted the penalty of death; and the latter has, upon full persuasion of its being useless, nay, even pernicious, given orders for abolishing it entirely throughout her extensive dominions.” – William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, vol. 4, p. 10.

See: I. de Madariaga, Catherine the Great: A Short History (1990).

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” curated by William E. Butler and Mike Widener, is on display Mar. 1 - May 25, 2012, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

 

March 4, 2012

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” the latest exhibit from the Yale Law Library’s Rare Book Collection, is perhaps the first rare book exhibit in the U.S. to focus on the history of Russian law.

The exhibition features principal landmarks in Russia’s pre-1917 legal literature. Among these are the first printed collection of Russian laws, the 1649 Sobornoe ulozhenie, and three versions of the Nakaz, the law code that earned Empress Catherine the Great her reputation.

The exhibit draws on the riches of Yale University libraries, augmented by loans from the Harvard Law School Library and a private collection.

“The post-Soviet era of Russian history has made the legacy of the pre-1917 era newly relevant in ways unimaginable,” writes William E. Butler, one of the exhibit curators. “It is not merely a country recovering historical experience suppressed or distorted for ideological reasons during the Soviet regime, but a country seeking to modernize partly on the basis of its earlier legal legacy.”

Butler is the John Edward Fowler Distinguished Professor of Law and International Affairs at the Dickinson School of Law,  Pennsylvania State University. The exhibit’s co-curator is Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

Butler is the pre-eminent U.S. authority on the law of the former Soviet Union. He is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of more than 120 books on Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, and post-Soviet legal systems. He is a member of the Grolier Club, the leading U.S. society for book collectors, and the Organization of Russian Bibliophiles. He is also a leading bookplate collector who has authored several reference works on bookplates.

Widener has been Rare Book Librarian at the Lillian Goldman Law Library since 2006. He is a member of the Grolier Club and a faculty member of the Rare Book School, University of Virginia.

The exhibit is on display through May 25, 2012 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. The exhibit is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily. The exhibit will also go online via the Yale Law Library Rare Books Blog.

For more information, contact Mike Widener, Rare Book Librarian, at (203) 432-4494 or .@yale.edu>

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